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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Monday, June 05, 2023

Pride and Prejuduce

Seattle Mariners star Julio Rodriguez displaying his Pride for the LGBTQ
community; sign on the right not so much.

I am old enough to remember when LGBTQ Pride celebrations were mocked by opponents mainly because of the attire or lack thereof worn by the participants. Before social media took off, images were cherry-picked to illustrate the tawdriest outfits and flamboyant costumes. These photos were used to raise money by right wing religious groups and others to push their anti-LGBTQ agenda in an effort to stop the legalization of same-sex marriages, adoptions and other LGBTQ rights.

Now it seems that the opponents of Pride celebrations are not confined to religious institutions but by the far-right cluster of everyday people who are simply homo/bi/transphobic. They don’t want to see our community period; we should return to the closet so that their sensibilities are not shaken.

Of course, extreme right wing homophobic politicians cynically have seized on the bigotry in the land to win voters. They bundle their hateful rhetoric under the vague term “anti-woke.” They demean drag shows, conflating drag queens with transgender folks in an effort to frighten parents. By the way, the “anti-woke” b.s. is not restricted to LGBTQ folks, but it also is aimed at people of color, immigrants and other marginalized people.

With each year, the annual ritual of holding LGBTQ Pride festivals and parades all over the world is gaining more media coverage and popularity.  These celebrations have been taking place for over 50 years since the first one in New York City marked the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising when patrons in the Greenwich Village underground bar fought back against yet another police raid.

Pride, as it is simply called, has had different meanings to different people. To me it is affirming that I will love who I want.  I also acknowledge the adversity that LGBTQ people have had to endure throughout their lives, and that we are proud that we have survived though, sadly, not everyone has.

The availability and the anonymity of the internet with its chat platforms, groups and topical pages reveal the bigotry that is still out there despite recent progress in the LGBTQ community.

Nothing is more obvious as to the extent of homo/bi/transphobia on sports fan pages. Nothing triggers these people (overwhelmingly male) when a professional baseball team announces their annual Pride Nights or Nights Out events or a hockey team wishing its fans Happy Pride Month. It gets ugly and stupid all at once.

In response to a team’s recognition of Pride, the comments on these pages typically reflect three categories to mask (not that well) the individuals’ homo/bi/transphobia:

1.     We shouldn’t mix politics and sports.

Well, you can’t always take politics out of sports. For example, there was the big-time flap over boxing champion Muhammad Ali’s virulently strong opposition to the Vietnam War. Donald Trump made political hay over football quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice at the hands of the police.

For my part, when the “don’t mix politics and sports” refrain comes up, I reply, “People said the same thing when Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.” And now his uniform number 42 had been permanently retired by all major league baseball clubs, and he is honored every year on April 15, the date of his first game.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman tweeting his support of LGBTQ Pride.

Frankly, I don’t see being LGBTQ as political. It’s who we are. Period. The opponents sounding off against us make it political.

 Just stick to baseball.

Do these people urge to the team to “stick to baseball” when there is a breast cancer awareness night or a military night or Mother’s Day or other similar events? Not hardly. Team uniforms conform to these special days—Camo hats for military nights; pink bats, wristbands and caps for Mother’s Day, etc. Nobody is offended. To my knowledge, teams have not been pressured to wear rainbow uniforms during Pride Night games. It’s total nonsense.   

 There should be a “straight pride.”

This is the most comical category, and you will clearly note the absurdity. The notion that straight folks need to demonstrate their pride is ludicrous, and that’s being mild.  Every day is straight pride. 

LGBTQ Pride, as I indicated, is a celebration of who we are and enduring the myriad manifestations of hatred directed towards our community.  Straight people have not had to grapple with being straight in our society. Consider:

• No straight person has been fired from their job or not hired for being straight.

• No straight person has been kicked out of an apartment or disapproved of a lease because he or she is straight.

• No straight person has been assaulted or killed for being straight.

• No straight person has to hide their sexuality from family members, classmates, clergy, co-workers, bosses, friends and neighbors.

• Straight people are not committing suicide because of prejudice against their being straight.

Let’s be real. A few blatantly admit their bigotry because they safely hide behind an abstract identity. But others try to clumsily conceal their homo/bi/transphobia by using arguments contained in the above three categories. It doesn’t work. 


Monday, May 22, 2023

The Rainbow Road is Rather Winding

The road is long.

With a many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where.
Who knows 


These lyrics from the pop song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell and made famous by The Hollies, Neil Diamond and others metaphorically describe the events in LGBTQ Baltimore during the 20 years that Baltimore OUTloud has been existence. The twists and turns are seemingly endless. Along this road, which is alternately rough and smooth, are triumphs, defeats, jubilation, tragedies, courage and determination.

The birth of OUTloud itself was an unlikely development with its first publication occurring in May 2003.  It came about when the editor of Gay Life, the communication arm of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB), sought more independence in its content, and along with other investors launched a new company, Pride Media, Ltd., that published a newspaper, Baltimore OUTloud. A bunch of writers and staff who had been volunteering at Gay Life headed over to the nascent periodical.

The GLCCB and OUTloud had an uneasy co-existence at first. Some would characterize the situation as contentious. Over the years, however, there was a rapprochement, and both Gay Life and OUTloud co-existed peacefully for the betterment of the community.

In 2016, the road took another turn and a deal was struck between OUTloud and the GLCCB whereby Pride Media, Ltd. bought out Gay Life and in effect, merged providing space in OUTloud to publicize GLCCB events, such as Pride, and its programs.

The fact that these entities reached such a significant and collegial agreement after the early frosty relations marks one of the major turns in Baltimore’s rainbow road.

Politically, that rainbow road was fraught with speed bumps and potholes along the journey. Yet, it took us to some important destinations but by no means final. Marriage equality is a prime example.

When OUTloud first hit the streets on May 16, 2003, the legal recognition of same-sex couples was merely a pipe dream. The only article in the first issue that remotely touched on the subject was a lawsuit filed in federal court to strike down a Nebraska constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex relationship recognition.  Very few envisioned the legalization of same-sex marriage, not with all the conservative and religious opposition getting in the way.

As the years passed, momentum for achieving what was once considered impossible gained steam. With the work by key LGBTQ organizations, hundreds of dedicated individuals, elected officials and a society that was growing more amenable to fairness and equality, that pipe dream became a reality. Marylanders voted to support marriage equality, and the U.S. Supreme Court in effect made it legal in every state. And whoever thought that the Mayor of Baltimore, the Governor of Maryland and the President of the United States would all advocate for marriage equality?

Baltimore OUTloud was there every step of the way covering the setbacks and successes, which are intrinsic to any civil rights movement. A little less than 10 years after its first publication, OUTloud was present at Baltimore’s City Hall to chronicle the first same-sex weddings in Maryland. And that was followed up with a state law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity that survived heated and nonfactual rhetoric from opponents.

So the road seemed to have unbended with the surface appearing to be smooth. But another turn has been encountered: a sharp turn, which is making the journey more perilous.

The far right has seized upon queer-affirming books in school libraries, drag shows, pronoun usage, transgender athletes and a revived emphasis on parental control in education as a way to justify attacking the LGBTQ+ community. They have falsely accused LGBTQ+ people of “grooming” children and wrongly conflating drag queens with transgender individuals.

These ideas, which have been politically successful in many conservative areas, are threatening the LGBTQ+ communities and the gains we achieved, thus putting all of us at risk. In fact, hundreds of bills are before state legislatures (some already passed) that largely target transgender youth especially gender affirming care.

From the dim prospects of marriage quality to the celebratory same-sex weddings, to attacks on trans kids, to asserting drag shows more of a threat to children’s safety than guns, along with the condemnations of Pride events, the turn in the road is so sharp, it borders on being a u-turn.

Another turn occurred since publication day, which also could not have been predicted. Twenty years
ago, the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore, dubbed as the “gayborhood” because of the plethora of LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly bars, clubs, shops and restaurants concentrated in a small area, was a bustling place. On a given Saturday night, people were dining inside and outside the City Café. Lines of patrons were seen waiting for admission into the Club Hippo. Across the street, Grand Central was packed where you could hardly move. Leon’s, The Drinkery and Jay’s on Read attracted their own devotees.

Almost suddenly in 2015 when the Hippo actually closed its doors, the gayborhood began its descent. The ending of the 43 year-old mainstay of Mount Vernon—the largest dance club in the state that attracted visitors from all over the U.S. and beyond—signaled a turn that became irreversible. Grand Central, the next largest club in the area, was put on sale. While it tried to hang on as a viable alternative to the Hippo, a combination of factors led to its demise, not the least of it was the Covid pandemic. Jay’s on Read closed ostensibly for financial reasons. The effects of Covid claimed the City Café and the Mount Vernon Stable, which were popular eateries in the area. Flavor, the only lesbian bar in Mount Vernon, was also forced to close its doors.

Prior to these losses, the community center, which is now called the Pride Center of Maryland, had moved a mile or so northbound to be closer to a population that would benefit more from its programs. Not only did the Center leave the gayborhood but the annual Pride parades and block parties—a staple of the area every June—left with it.

Earlier, Lambda Rising, a well-known LGBTQ+ bookstore chain, went out of business succumbing to competition from online book retailers.

While other establishments have sprung up to serve the community, the identity of the gayborhood is not the same with all of these missing pieces gone. It just seems like a long time between May 2003 and now with so much happening, both good and bad.

But what remains constant despite the twisting rainbow road over 20 years is the fact that Baltimore OUTloud remains the only LGBTQ publication in Maryland.  It has weathered a precipitous decline in interest in print periodicals, the passing of its co-owner, the effects of the pandemic as well as financial challenges that all newspapers and magazines are facing.

Other publications have folded, among them and surprisingly, the City Paper. But here we are 20 years later: Baltimore OUTloud is still standing and poised to continue its coverage along that winding rainbow road that leads us to who knows where.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

‘SIX’ Reigns Supreme at the Hippodrome

Merely three days removed from the coronation of King Charles III, the Hippodrome raises the curtain on Six, a musical’s take on the six wives of Henry VIII, which is in the midst of a national tour.  I cannot say for sure if the events occurring during the marriage(s?) of Charles III will result in a musical five hundred years from now, but I can’t rule it out. And with his genetics, he could still be around to authorize it.

The production at the Hippodrome is electric—literally and figuratively—featuring six top-notch female performers as Henry’s wives and queens and an array of spectacular effects. Six is a blend of razzle, dazzle, sizzle, energy, humor, sparkling costumes, attitude, and an abundance of fierceness not seen in most musicals.

Six is a British musical comedy in which the original Broadway production earned nine Tony Award nominations in 2020 capturing two. “Six: Live On Opening Night Broadway” debuted as Number 1 on the Billboard cast album charts and surpassed 6 million streams in its first month.

Under the direction of Jamie Armitage and Lucy Moss, the latter of whom co-wrote the book, music and lyrics with Toby Marlow, Six brings a little history from the 16th   century with a ton of sass and talent from the diverse cast.  Though the accuracy of the historical depiction has been questioned, the wives and their fates are true.

 “Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.”

In a sort of a kvetch fest, Henry VIII’s six Tudor queens hold a modern pop concert to relate their gloomy stories of victimhood involving the king. They share the abuse they experienced under Henry: the misogyny, the infidelity and the brutality. The lead singer will have been determined in a contest by who suffered the most while being Henry’s wife.

To be sure, each wife had her miseries—some even lost their heads—but through song and witty dialogue they are hell bent on ridiculing the others in the pronouncements of their hardships. After all, it is a competition.

Ultimately, they decide to scuttle the notion that their legacy is so tied to one man and instead agree to re-write their own stories that celebrate womanhood, modern-day girl power and a poke in the eye of “patriarchal structure” for good measure. They do not want to be known as simply one of Henry’s wives.

All of the performers demonstrate exceptional mezzo-soprano vocals, comedic timing and dance moves that are choreographed by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille. Each queen has her own unique story to tell and each is linked to a musical genre and a contemporary pop star or a combination of several as Marlow and Moss created composites of these stars as inspiration or “Queenspiration” for the characters.

Catherine of Aragon (played by Gerianne Pérez) is Henry’s first and longest wed wife. Despite her being loyal, Henry divorced her as he chased what turned out to be his second wife, Anne Bolyeyn. Ms. Pérez is a commanding figure who would be a combination of Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Jennifer Hudson in her solo “No Way.”

Six brings a little history from the 16th   century with a ton of sass and talent from the diverse cast. 

For her part, Anne Boleyn (Zan Berube) tried to deal with Henry’s infidelity by making him jealous by flirting with others. That strategy backfired as she lost her head as a result.  She nails the comic relief aspect of the show as she constantly reminds the other wives that nothing could be worse than having her head chopped off. Ms. Berube brings Miley Cyrus. Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne to mind with her rendition of “Don’t Lose Your Head.”

Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour (Amina Faye), claims she was most loved by Henry but under the condition she bears a male child. She died after giving birth to Prince Edward. Ms. Faye’s astoundingly moving torch song “Heart of Stone” channels Adele’s “Hello.”

Terica Marie plays Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife. She brings Nicki Minaj and Rihanna into the fold with “Get Down,” a danceable rap song about her post-divorce life.

Wife number five is Katherine Howard (Aline Mayagoitia), a self-confident though abused young woman by those in power over her who also wound up headless. She is excellent in the upbeat “All You Wanna Do” that would make Ariana Grande and Britney Spears proud.

The sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr (Sydney Parra), had multiple marriages of her own with Henry being the third of four. Parr was remembered for “surviving.” She pushes most of the feminist themes throughout and her wonderful rendition of “I Don’t Need Your Love” is inspired by Alicia Keys Emeli Sandé.

The rollicking finale “Six” performed by The Queens is a celebration of each other and themselves and puts the exclamation point on a terrific show.

Three cheers to the technical crews from the tour and the Hippodrome Theatre for transforming the elegant stage to a powerhouse concert venue. Tim Deiling’s lighting design is beyond fantastic as is Paul Gatehouse’s sound design.  Emma Bailey’s set is simple enough with nine illuminated cathedral-like arches as the basic scenery. Thus, when combined with the brilliant lighting effects, the stage becomes a stadium concert spectacle. The boisterous cheering from the audience clearly adds to that ambience.

The orchestra under the music direction of Lena Gabrielle was every bit a concert band mounted on a platform upstage providing exceptional backup to the vocalists. The rich score includes some soul, hip-hop and house music that carries the witty and descriptive lyrics. Even a heart-wrenching torch song is part of the catalogue.

Imaginative colorful, glittering costumes designed by Gabriella Slade bring additional sparkle to the production.  They feature gleaming, sexy metallic attire with boots and crowns as each of the queens are attired in a distinctive color and style that give off a Spice Girls vibe.

Six packs all the elements of scintillating theatre in its performances, music and technical prowess into a tight, fast-paced, highly entertaining 80 minutes. Its message of independence, pride and feminism and support for one another resonates.

I don’t know if Charles III ever saw Six but if he had, I’m sure he will be mindful of his legacy and not follow the path of Henry VIII. It won’t be pretty.

Running Time. One hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.

Six runs through May 14 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos: Joan Marcus

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Kander and Ebb Musical Revue Dazzles at Olney

Harris Milgrim, Nova Y. Patton, Kevin S. McAllister
Natascia Diaz & Karen Vincent
The songwriting duo of Kander and Ebb may not have the same name recognition in musical theatre and film as legends Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, Lerner and Loewe even Tim Rice and Elton John. But it should.

John Kander and the late Fred Ebb have collaborated on a mountain of songs—many quite familiar—that earned them numerous accolades, Tony’s and Oscars for their efforts. Spanning six decades, the team penned the music for such classic musicals as Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spiderwoman and The Scottsboro Boys to name a few. And did you know that they wrote the colossally famous song “New York, New York” for the film with the same name? Neither did I.

Fortunately, the works of Kander and Ebb are being celebrated in a scintillating revue taking place at the Olney Theatre Center in a partnership with ArtsCentic and Everyman Theatre. With a striking set, a superb orchestra and an incredibly talented company of five, 31 songs are showcased in a two-act revue that brings to life some of the Kander and Ebb fine catalogue.

The revue is titled “The World Goes ‘Round,” an updated version of the 1991 off-Broadway production “And the World Goes Round” that was originally created by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson.  (On a personal level, the title is ironic given I was battling the effects of vertigo during the few days leading up to opening night. Those who have experienced this condition could relate. But enough of me. Back to the review of the revue.)

Kander and Ebb were known to be ahead of their time. While certain topics were considered off-limits, Kander and Ebb confronted dark issues like Nazism in Cabaret, for instance, and social injustice. They dealt with the marginalized in society like the incarcerated. They dealt with racism, female sexuality, queerness and gender fluidity.  But their songs do not necessarily reflect darkness. Kander and Ebb have also created snappy buoyant melodies and joyful, even humorous lyrics. The eclectic mix performed during the revue range from tuneful, emotion-packed torch songs to comical numbers.

The quintet performing these selections consists of a multi-talented and experienced troupe: Natascia Diaz (Broadway’s Man of La Mancha and the Olney Theatre/Round House production of In The Heights); Kevin S. McAllister, who also directs this revue (Broadway's Caroline...Or Change and Come From Away); Harris Milgrim (Broadway’s Cats); Nova Y. Payton (Signature Theatre’s Into the Woods and The Color Purple); and Karen Vincent (Ford’s Theatre’s Ragtime and Into the Woods).

Natascia Diaz and Harris Milgrim

The members of this group can sing up a storm; they can dance gracefully; they do comedy well; and they can “roller skate.” Well, maybe not so much the latter as they hilariously demonstrate those skills in “The Rink” from the show with the same title.

Under the direction of Mr. McAllister, who is no stranger to directing revues at Olney as he helmed the sparkling “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” this past winter, the show is well-paced and expertly staged.  Music director and maestro Christopher Youstra with his fabulous seven-piece orchestra playing upstage throughout the show, provide the performers with superb backing and do the Kander score proud.

Each member of the company has a turn in singing solos with about half of the selections sung in combination with others or the entire company. As individuals, their vocals shine; in combination with others, they soar.

Nova Y. Payton, with her astoundingly big voice, gets the show off on a high note with her rendition of “And the World Goes ‘Round” from the film New York, New York. Another solo “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret is a showstopper. It should be noted that this ballad was not written by Kander and Ebb specifically for Cabaret but was included in the 1972 film version. It had been written in 1964 for Liza Minnelli’s debut album Liza! Liza!

As mentioned previously, director Kevin S. McAllister also performs in the troupe. Possessing a burly tenor voice, Mr. McAllister demonstrates his strong vocals in the title song from the lesser known 60’s musical The Happy Time as well as “I Don’t Remember.” His rendition of “She’s a Woman” from Kiss of the Spiderwoman is outstanding.

Karen Vincent has a lush voice and performs well throughout. Her two solos, “Colored Lights” from The Rink and “Isn’t This Better?” from Funny Lady are spot on. In a comical number “Sara Lee” that was popularized by Liza Minnelli, Ms. Vincent joins Ms. Payton and Harris Milgrim. It is a pure delight as costume designer Moyenda Kulemeka fitted the ladies in garb resembling pastries. Ms. Kulemeka did a fabulous job in outfitting the troupe in a wide variety of costumes that coincide with the applicable period.

Ms. Vincent also performs in “How Lucky Can You Get” from Funny Lady with Mr. Harris and Mr. McAllister and “There Goes The Ballgame” from New York, New York with Natascia Diaz and Ms. Payton.

Mr. Milgrim takes on many of the revue’s comedic moments and hits them out of the park. The lithe, athletic performer reminds me of a modern-day Tommy Tune. He literally shows off his fit physique in the amusing “Arthur in the Afternoon” from The Act, which is splendidly sung by Natascia Diaz.  An accomplished dancer to be sure, Mr. Milgrim has a solid tenor singing voice and can hold a note longer than an airport line.  He shines in “Sometimes a Day Goes By” from Woman of the Year, an exceptional rendition of “Mister Cellophane” from Chicago and “Marry Me” from The Rink.

Besides “Arthur in the Afternoon,” Natascia Diaz with her rich vocals performs adroitly in “A Quiet Thing” from Flora, The Red Menace. This show happened to be Kander and Ebb’s first collaboration and launched the career of Liza Minnelli who won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for the 1965 production. Ms. Diaz takes the lead in the outstanding dance number “And All That Jazz,” one of the highlights from Chicago and performs a beautifully performed extended dance number “When It All Comes True” with Mr. Milgrim.

There are a number of well-executed dance numbers that rev up the tempo of the revue. Choreographer Shalyce Hemby guides the company with precise and fluid movements in such songs as “Coffee In A Cardboard Cup” from 70, Girls, 70, “Me and My Baby” from Chicago, and “Money, Money” from Cabaret. “The Rink” concludes the first act with a roller skating “exhibition” from four of the five members of the company that is pure fun. Ms. Payton was wise to stay off the wheels for this one as she took on a different and safer role during the number.

Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger allows the performers to do their thing in a gorgeous, colorful setting. The orchestra is upstage but in certain numbers, the platform moves towards the front. There are several rectangular panels on the wall that serve as screens for projections designed by Patrick W. Lord. These projections contain a wide assortment of images that coincide with a particular song. Several personalities are seen offering tributes to Kander and Ebb. They include Chita Rivera and Dame Judi Dench among others.

Lighting Designer Aja M. Jackson adds rich hues to the optics. As a great touch, strings of footlights frame the stage, the wall panels and even the platform where the orchestra is mounted to give off a cool theatre vibe. Well done!

One does not need to be familiar with all the Kander and Ebb songs to enjoy this wonderful musical experience. More likely than not, you will recognize the real popular ones and enjoy the interpretation that is applied. For example, the production number “Cabaret” has been “jazzed up” with an enjoyable result. And there’s the surprise finale “New York, New York” with a new twist.

This production is an extraordinary tribute to the team of Kander and Ebb. Outstanding performers and orchestra with stellar work from the technical crew all under the guiding hand of Kevin S. McAllister make this a don’t miss show. Life is indeed a cabaret.

Running time. Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission

The World Goes ‘Round plays through May 21, 2023, at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or by visiting here.

Photos by Teresa Castracane Photography

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Not Every New Idea is a Good One

When I first saw the new PFLAG logo, I thought the person showing it to me was committing a prank. Sadly, he wasn’t. I admit that I don’t know how the decision was reached at PFLAG National to change the existing logo(left) to the new one (right); who designed this thing; how much did it cost the organization to commission the new design; and how and why PFLAG officials believe this was a good idea. All I know is that it was a ridiculous decision and an example of how to screw up branding. Moreover, all chapters must use the new edition in their communications and websites.

A logo has been essential for companies, universities, sports teams and organizations of all stripes to create a brand identity and for customers to recognize it immediately. An overwhelming majority if these entities have maintained their logos for years and in many cases, decades as they understood the critical marketing imperative of having the company readily identified with their logo.

Logos appear on official communications, signs, advertising and various types of merchandise. Rarely do these entities tinker with them. If they do, it is usually subtle and just a few minor tweaks at that. They know all too well that maintaining a consistent logo works. It surely has worked well with companies like Coca-Cola, Walmart, Delta Airlines, NBC, Kellogg’s, Colgate, NY Mets, Royal Caribbean, Ford, University of Miami, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Red Wings and thousands of others.

LGBTQ organizations benefit from their logos as well. The Human Rights Campaign’s popular yellow equal sign on a blue field can be seen on thousands of cars’ bumpers, businesses windows, t-shirts, caps and mugs. Whatever your opinion is of HRC, you must admit they know a thing or two about branding.

But PFLAG seemed to have ignored the basics of marketing and decided to dispense with the cheerful, colorful, distinctive logo on the left in favor of the new one that screams…meh.

If I had drawn this new logo in my 7th grade art class, my teacher not only would have given me a low grade but she would have also scolded me for a lack of effort and imagination. Simply put it is visually unappealing and simply boring.

The change does not appear to be necessary.

I am not trying to dump on PFLAG. I love the organization with its hundreds of chapters nationwide and believe it is one of the most effective organizations in the LGBTQ rights movement. For over 50 years and through its volunteers PFLAG has succeeded in keeping countless number of families together and literally saved lives in the wake of hostility and discrimination.

I have been a volunteer in multiple chapters for a better part of 20 years and have written a slew of positive articles in the LGBTQ and mainstream press touting PFLAG’s invaluable work.

Their brand and reputation have always been wonderful, and even in today’s difficult times for LGBTQ organizations, it should capitalize on that brand.

I’m pretty sure it’s too late to restore the previous logo, but hopefully decision-makers at PFLAG National will see the light.

Monday, April 17, 2023

LGBTQIA+ Unity Center Unveiled in Westminster

There is a Rainbow Room, a Game Room, a Media Room and a lounge area for those who simply want to get away from the hubbub. These rooms comprise the new safe space, called the Unity Center in Westminster, Md., to promote inclusion and equity for LGBTQIA+ people, families, their friends and allies in Carroll County. It is located on the ground floor of Westminster’s Saint Paul’s United Church of Christ (17 Bond Street), which has served as the meeting space for PFLAG-Carroll County for over 15 years.

The PFLAG chapter’s volunteers with cooperation and donations from the church, local businesses, schools and the public have developed this space to serve the needs of the community.

“Carroll County actually does a very decent job of providing services for our community overall, but they are still lacking for our LGBTQIA+ folks,” says Joy Fisher, the PFLAG-Carroll County chapter’s president.  “We see our Unity Center helping to fill that void.  Additionally, I feel that having the Unity Center solidifies our presence.”

The need is evident. Last June the Carroll County School Board voted to ban Pride flags on school property.

“I think it is taking a step back to take something away that students recognize as a support, that [they] recognize something they’ve come to know as a safe place,” Superintendent Steven Lockard, who does not have a vote, told CBS Baltimore.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony that launched the new Unity Center took place on April 16 when a diverse crowd of about 50 attended the tour of the space and ceremony.

PFLAG provides services at the Unity Center for the LGBTQIA+ community that are not currently available in Carroll County. They include:

▲Support via phone, email and website

▲Social Media—Facebook, Private Facebook groups, and Instagram

▲Library/resources—Loans of Queer-themed DVDs, books and resources

▲Young, Teen & Adults (YTA) Fridays and Safe Space programs for queer individuals and allies (see below)

▲Education—Provide speakers and training to expand understanding and support of LGBTQIA+ issues

▲Social events—a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies to participate in and benefit from activities, such as dances, picnics, karaoke, movies and games

▲Monthly PFLAG Community Meetings—Open to the public to provide support, education and advocacy for issues and challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ folks, their families and allies.

▲Monthly PFLAG Parents’ Support Group—for parents and caregivers of LGBTQIA+ children and family members

“We want the community at large to understand that we are here, and we plan to continue to support our LGBTQIA+ youth and adults,” explains Fisher.  “The Unity Center means support, it means love, it means reaching out to those struggling and needing somewhere to feel safe and be around like-minded people.  We hope the Unity Center invites dialogue and we can have meaningful and useful discussion with folks who are having trouble understanding or accepting our LGBTQIA+ folks.” 

“The Unity Center means support, it means love, it means reaching out to those struggling and needing somewhere to feel safe ..."

She adds, “But whether we bring the community around or not, it will not stop us from providing our LGBTQIA+ people the safe space they need and eventually the services to help them strive in our community.  We look forward to growing the Unity Center with all the many ideas and programs that we can manage.” 

In light of the Carroll County School Board’s actions, one of the major programs PFLAG-Carroll County is offering through the Unity Center is the previously mentioned Youth, Teen and Adults (YTA) Fridays Monthly Safe Space program.

This is intended for gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual and transgender individuals and their allies. The cost is free but donations are always accepted.

Starting in June, the First Fridays from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. the Unity Center will be open for those ages 14 to 18 (9th to 12th grade).

The Second Fridays during the same timeframe the space will be available to Adults over age 18.

The Third Fridays from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. children ages 10 to 14 (5th to 9th grade).

Some of the activities in this environment include video games, board games, ping-pong, foosball, air hockey, karaoke, arts and crafts along with good conversation. The chapter supplies snacks, drinks and pizza and offer a separate area for supportive parents who want to stay and chat with other parents.

President Joy Fisher recognizes that the Unity Center will bolster the chapter’s visibility and provide awareness in the community.

“We are very excited to begin this initiative and were very encouraged by the Grand Opening participants, and we feel we are well on our way to a successful, useful and needed endeavor,” she says. 

 “Our Unity Center steering committee has worked very hard for over 6 months to bring this to fruition and I for one am very excited.  It would be neglectful of me not to do a huge shout out to our team:  Erin Snell, Jody Ledford, Judy Gaver, Beatrice Bordzol, Debra Weidman, Lisah Aubergine, Marty Kuchma, Jane Bownes, and Laura Russel.  Without their dedication and willingness to assist none of this would have come together. 

For more information visit the chapter’s website or email PFLAGcarroll@gmail.com

Thursday, April 13, 2023

A Very Cool 'Grease' Rocks at Toby's

How do you not love a musical where one of the featured songs is titled “Mooning”? The popular show Grease, which is currently playing at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, has many reasons for one to fall in love besides the titles of the songs.

It’s pretty safe to say that virtually all theatre-goers have heard of or seen the American classic musical Grease in some form or another. Grease had been one of Broadway’s longest running productions. It spawned several revivals on Broadway and has played all over the world in professional theatre via tours as well as in summer stock, community theatre and in schools all over the U.S. The 1978 movie with the same title starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John was a huge success.  And even that led to a sequel.

Grease takes you back to an era where spit curls and cigarette packs stuffed in the sleeves of tight t-shirts, and sporty cars, drive-ins, sock-hops and gossipy Pink Ladies ruled the day for teenagers. It is no wonder that this beloved 1971 musical, written and composed by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, found a way into the hearts of so many.  

And here it is (again). As in the past, the bouncy nostalgic 1950’s era production at Toby’s can also be characterized as a smash.

Working with an essentially fresh new cast from Toby’s iteration of four years ago, Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick directed and choreographed this vibrant masterpiece with supreme skill and vision. The precise staging and period aesthetics are matched by a wonderful young and exuberant cast whose dance moves are dazzling and whose vocals are sparkling.

Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings six-piece orchestra (conducted by Nathan Scavilla on this particular evening with Mr. Rawlings taking the baton at other performances) is in total synch with the company, never overwhelming the vocals.

Janine Sunday stayed true to the era by designing a splendid array of 1950’s costumes including black

Cassie Sauders as Sandy; Patrick Gover as Danny

jeans, black tight t-shirts and black leather jackets for the guys and cheerleading uniforms or below-the-knee pastel-colored skirts for the gals. The costumes worn during the number “Beauty School Dropout” are unforgettable.

Lynn Joslin’s lighting design is captivating and creative. And Mark Smedley’s sound design brings crystal clear audio to Toby’s in-the-round theater.

Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins did a wonderful job with the set. Lockers are on the balcony to denote what would be ordinarily seen at a high school. Projection screens are mounted around the theatre's walls that capture images of yearbook pictures and other period scenes throughout. Streamers from the ceiling are used to decorate a school dance. Awesome set pieces from diner booths to a miniature red and white hot rod dubbed “Greased Lightning” amplify the presentation so adroitly.

The plot, probably familiar to most due to the show’s prolific exposure, has undergone some tweaking in terms of score and dialogue during its course.  Yet, it continues to center on the relationships between lead characters Danny Zuko (played by charismatic Patrick Gover) and the Sandra Dee-like Sandy Dumbrowski (played well by Cassie Saunders) and among their respective working class peer cliques—the Burger Palace Boys (formerly called the T-Birds in other productions) and the Pink Ladies—at the fictional Rydell High School in 1959. 

While other characters emerge and their attempts at coupling form much of the comedic sequences, the focus remains on the ebbs and flows of the romantic relationship between Danny and Sandy.

Director Minnick steers the action with a light touch and keeps the proceedings breezy and fun throughout. Yet, embedded in the plot are such social issues as teenage pregnancy, peer pressure bordering on bullying, sexism, and gang violence amid the themes of love, friendship, teenage rebellion, sexual exploration during adolescence, and class consciousness. 

"...the bouncy nostalgic 1950’s era production at Toby’s can also be characterized as a smash."

Although those issues are legitimate in any period, Grease is all about the 50’s in terms of music, wardrobe, culture, dialogue, and gestures. Its popularity over these many years is a testament to the show’s ability to entertain audiences of all ages and in all eras.

And entertain they do.

The perfectly cast energetic and multi-talented company in the Toby’s production do the show proud.  Once the iconic production number “Summer Nights” is performed so effectively in the second scene of the first act, the tone is set and the audience is captured for the duration.

As one would expect in a musical with the pedigree of Grease, the songs are the show’s strength, and the cast delivers under the guidance of Mr. Minnick and Musical Director Rawlings.

A big dance number “Greased Lightnin” with the aforementioned hot rod rolling on the stage belonging to one of the greasers Kenickie (played strongly by Calvin Malone) is a crowd pleaser to be sure.

Other numbers with high-level, high-intensity choreography include the production numbers, “Summer Nights,” “Those Magic Changes,” “Freddie My Love,”  “We Go Together,” “Shakin’ at the High School Hop,” “Born to Hand Jive,” “You’re the One That I Want,” as well as others.

Then there is that hilarious song “Mooning” performed marvelously by Tony Lemus and Lydia Gifford.

The uniqueness of each dance number, the creativity and precision involved and the ability to perform the dances within the confines of Toby’s in-the-round stage are a testament to the guidance from Mr. Minnick and the performers’ talents.

As Danny Zuko, Patrick Gover excels as an actor and vocalist. With his matinee idol good looks, Mr. Gover does his greaser garb proud.  He has all the moves: a cocky swagger, preening and adjusting his hair frequently to make it crystal clear he is the lead greaser and attracting women is essentially a given.  Mr. Gover’s solid tenor voice excels in “Summer Nights” using falsetto at the end effectively and “Alone at the Drive-In Movie.”

Cassie Saunders plays innocent and later, not so innocent Sandy,  to the hilt. Also equipped with strong vocal prowess, Ms. Saunders performs very well in “Summer Nights” and the lovely ballad “Hopelessly Devoted to You”—a song popularized by Olivia Newton-John in the film version of Grease and later incorporated in the stage musicals. She also performs well in the reprise of “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

As Betty Rizzo, the tough, gum-snapping, chain-smoking heavy among the Pink Ladies, Alicia Osborne does justice to her role.  She expertly performs the song “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

Other outstanding performers include Calvin Malone as Kenickie, Tony Lemus as Roger, Brandon Bedore as Doody, Caelyn D. Williams as Marty, Joey Ellinghaus as Sonny, Emily Flack as Frenchy, Dereck Atwater as Eugene Florczyk, Lydia Gifford as Jan, Asia-Lige Arnold as Miss Lynch as well as Teen Angel whose performance of “Beauty School Dropout” is a goose-bump-producing vocal, Jeffrey Shankle as Vince Fontaine, Shane Lowry as Johnny Casino, Candace Foreman as Cha-Cha DiGregorio, and Brooke Bloomquist as Patty Simcox.

Rounding out the company are the ensemble members Angelo Harrington II, Alexis Krey-Bedore, James Mernin and Tori Weaver.

The Toby’s production stayed true to Grease’s classic rock ‘n roll core, and everybody associated with it deserves bravos. Even if you spent a summer night with Grease before, drive your hot rod over to Toby’s and catch this amazing production. Grease is the word, and is the one that you’ll want! But please avoid mooning.

Running time. Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission

Grease runs through June 11 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311or visiting here.


The full buffet menu is shown here, and the specialty drink is “Pink Lady.”

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

‘Hadestown’ at the Hippodrome is One Helluva Show

Hannah Whitley as Eurydice and J. Antonio Rodrigues as Orpheus
One may not have to be well-versed in Greek mythology to appreciate Hadestown, the highly touted musical that is currently making a national tour stop at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre. For while the characters in the show—Orpheus, Eurydice, Persephone, Hades, and Fates—are based on those in Greek mythology, there is a strong connection to the modern world’s environment. One thing is for certain: the power of love and hope despite struggles and hardship transcend time.

The story is narrated by the herald of the gods, the lively and nimble Hermes. He guides the audience throughout and is aided by the ensemble performing as a Greek chorus and the three Fates who shape the destiny of each human. The energetic opening song, “Road to Hell” presents the contours of the story and sets the tone.

Hadestown is a mostly sung-through musical that presents a folk-rock vibe with an infusion of soul, jazz, and pop.  This unique show was conceived by Anaïs Mitchell, who wrote the music and the story. In 2019 it received 8 Tony Awards out of its 14 nominations including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

Captivating and emotional, the production at the Hippodrome, under the direction of Rachel Chavkin and choreography by David Neumann, is exceptional. Though the story is riveting, and the eclectic music is memorable, the strength of the shows lies with the performers and their magnificent vocal prowess.

Orpheus is a passionate songwriter and musician who falls in love at first sight with Eurydice a pragmatic but vulnerable young girl. He immediately, and I do mean immediately, asks Eurydice to be his wife. But the young girl lives in poverty and suffers through and is fearful of extreme climate changes. Orpheus believes that he can create a song that can remedy the world’s ills. Their love does well in spring and summer but is challenged during the fall and winter seasons.

Matthew Patrick Quinn as Hades; Hannah Whitley as Eurydice
The impoverished and hungry Eurydice gets caught in a storm while trying to find food. At that point she is lured by Hades, the ruler of the Underworld (hell) and encouraged by the Fates, to escape the harsh conditions above and become a factory worker in Hadestown, a hellish industrial empire with its oil drums and what-not. Seeking that security, she signs a contract to do so.

Upon discovering that Eurydice is missing, Orpheus receives instructions from Hermes how to go to Hadestown to rescue his love despite the odds. With his music and undying love for Eurydice in tow, Orpheus arrives. He is confronted by Hades who points out that she signed that contract and is bound by it. But Persephone, Hades’ wife in a rocky marriage and who alternates her time in the Underworld and in the world above, tries to persuade Hades to let Eurydice go, noting the determination on the part of Orpheus. How the final decision is reached and what ultimately transpires form the remainder of the powerfully emotional story.

This all unfolds on a fixed multi-level set that resembles a well-worn New Orleans jazz club complete with a French Quarter-style balcony. Rachel Hauck’s scenic design allows the terrific seven-piece orchestra to appear onstage with some musicians moving about the stage from time to time. A steel door is located upstage that swallows up those entering Hadestown.

The scenes are split between this jazz club as well as Hadestown where the workers in hell perform their repetitive tasks in circles on a turntable. This effect, choreographed by David Neumann in addition to the creative and vivid lighting design by Bradley King that includes swinging light fixtures during emotional moments, is impactful. Neumann’s well-choreographed numbers are presented throughout, with “Livin’ It Up On Top” and “Way Down Hadestown” being exemplary, showcasing high-voltage, emphatic dance movements.

The show starts off with Hermes, the narrator, so I will start with him. Played deliciously and with flair by Nathan Lee Graham, the character captures the audience’s imagination and affection with his joyful and sympathetic qualities. What few comedic moments surface during the musical, Mr. Graham holds most of them.  He has a nice tenor voice and performs in multiple numbers including the stage-setting opener “Road to Hell” and the standout song “Wait For Me.”

J. Antonio Rodriguez shines in the role of the passionate and eternally optimistic Orpheus. A fine singing voice that is featured in such songs as “Epic I,” “Epic II,” “Epic III,” “Come Home With Me,” and the group number “Doubt Comes In,” Mr. Rodriguez possesses an exceptional command of falsetto during his vocals and is a treat to listen to.

Mr. Rodriguez displays wonderful onstage chemistry with Hannah Whitley, who plays the role of Eurydice. Their growing love is captured tenderly with a prevalence of emotion. The realistic and worried Eurydice is a perfect counterpoint to the sanguine Orpheus.    

Ms. Whitney’s voice is as clear as a bell and performs in many group numbers. Her duets with Mr. Rodriguez in “All I’ve Ever Known” and “Gone, I’m Gone” are gorgeous.

Matthew Patrick Quinn is outstanding as the antagonist Hades. Commanding and authoritative, Mr. Quinn conveys the steely ruler of the Underworld with verve. His bass voice is stunning with his lower register likely to reach the depths of Hadestown itself. Mr. Quinn excels in the duet with Ms. Whitney in the seductive “Hey, Little Songbird” and in the solo “His Kiss, The Riot.”

As Hades’ wife Persephone, the person who tries to assist Orpheus in his pursuit and attempts to reconcile her own marriage, Lana Gordon is enjoyable in conveying the lively, free-spirit.  Equipped with a powerful singing voice, she opens the second act with a good deal of campiness, and her solo, “Our Lady of the Underground,” does just that. Ms. Gordon also performs well in group numbers including “Livin’It Up On Top” and the duet with Mr. Quinn “How Long?”

The Fates consist of three singers who are omniscient and all-seeing and who provide commentary and advice throughout the show. They are played very well by Belén Moyano, Dominique Kempf, and Nyla Watson. The trio performs in several numbers including “When the Chips are Down” with Ms. Whitney and “Word to the Wise.”

The talented Workers Chorus include Sean Watkinson, Jordan Bollwerk, Jamal Lee Harris, Courtney Lauster, Eddie Noel Rodriguez and Racquel Williams.

Hadestown is an entertaining and vibrant production with exceptional performers, music, costumes and staging. It takes us back to mythical time but has a relationship to the world we live in today. A key takeaway is keep moving forward and do not turn back. Should you see Hadestown at the Hippodrome? Hell yes!

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Hadestown runs through April 16 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos: T. Charles Erickson

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Waco Whacko

Not yet held accountable, Trump continues to stick his finger into the eyes of America

This is what a mob boss looks like
espite his 90-minute piss and moan-a-thon in Waco, Texas on March 25, former President Donald Trump behaved as though he will evade justice as he always has.  
With criminal investigations gathering steam in New York, Fulton County, and in Washington, Trump used his Waco rally not to offer a vision of what he sees as the future of the country in terms of policy, but to agitate and activate his cultist supporters by assailing these investigations.

Of course, there are methods to his madness. One, he is attempting to lay the groundwork for massive protests should an indictment or two or three be handed down. Trump’s incendiary rhetoric is designed to intimidate prosecutors into not filing charges lest there would be wide-scale violence or as he characterized it on social media, “death and destruction.” Already Alvin Bragg, the New York District Attorney who appears poised to ask the Grand Jury for such an indictment, has received multiple death threats. This is a mob boss in action.

Two, his goal is to raise money off of his legal predicaments. No stranger to theatre, Trump wants to do a perp walk led in handcuffs and have a mug shot sent over every fundraising email that can be mustered. He needs whatever money he can corral to pay off (not that he will) his burgeoning legal fees.

And speaking of theatre, Trump’s performance at Waco (the site of the 1993 siege that left 75 dead) must be deemed a flop. Or in theatre parlance, Trump laid an egg.  It’s bad enough that the crowd reportedly had begun to thin out 30 minutes into the grievance-laced speech.

It’s also bad that Trump continues to lie and exaggerate. For example, he told his worshippers that he satisfied his 2016 campaign promise by completing a concrete wall along the 2,000-mile southern border and Mexico paid for it. In fact, only 40 miles of penetrable fencing was constructed in which funding had been approved in the Bush Administration.

However, his biggest miscue and where he stuck his finger into the eyes of democracy-supporting Americans and maybe his own legal defense, is when he led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance while the J6 Choir performed in the background. That choir is made up by inmates serving time for the January 6 insurrection.  And if that wasn’t enough to make you puke, Trump showed footage of those “patriots” storming the Capitol on January 6. And this wasn’t the Tucker Carlson sightseeing tour version.

In other words, he is paying homage, no honoring, the insurrectionists and explains why he didn’t lift a finger as Capitol Police and other law enforcement were being bludgeoned by pro-Trump rioters on that fateful day.

Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, who is investigating the January 6 day of infamy as well as the Mar-a-Lago documents/obstruction of justice case, always needed to nail down Trump’s state of mind as these events unfolded. He needed to prove intent: intent to incite a riot/insurrection and intent to obstruct justice. If Mr. Smith was watching footage from the Waco pity party and how Trump honored the insurrectionists, he may be able to finally check that box. 

He can thank the Waco Whacko.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

‘The Wedding Singer’ is Pitch Perfect at Silhouette Stages

L to R: Seth Fallon as George, Xander Conte as Robbie Hart,
Henry Cyr as Sammy
When Jeremy Goldman, the President of the Board of Directors of Silhouette Stages, one of Howard County’s venerable community theatres, decided to step away from his over 30 years of performing on stage and tried his hand at directing, he could not have picked a better show in The Wedding Singer to make his directing debut. He also couldn’t have chosen a better cast and crew—all volunteers—to make it work. And did it ever!

At the helm, Mr. Goldman ably stitches all the moving parts into a cohesive, intricately staged, high-tempo tapestry of laughter and nostalgia. The talented cast is brimming with enthusiasm and energy, and under the precise choreography by Jeremy A. McShan, can dance up a storm.

Let me point out that the stage in the Slayton House Theater where this production takes place is rather compact and does not have the expanse of say, Radio City Music Hall. To choreograph the snappy numbers so adroitly in limited space is a tribute to Mr. McShan’s imagining of the dance steps and the abilities of the performers in the show led by dance captain Brandon Goldman to execute them.

With music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, The Wedding Singer is based on the popular 1998 film of the same name that propelled Adam Sandler’s cinema career. The show garnered 5 Tony Award nominations in 2006 including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Choreography. I never saw the movie; I was wayyyy too young. However, I am delighted to have experienced the laugh-a-minute production at Silhouette Stages.

Even before the proverbial curtain rises, the sounds of the 1980’s are piped into the audience. The likes of Bon Jovi and other popular artists of the era signal that the setting is 1985 New Jersey, not far from Exit 16. Already it’s funny. And the never-ending, hilarious one-liners and goofy song lyrics keep the audience in stitches from soup to nuts.

From the opening number, “It’s Your Wedding Day” where the cast scampers up the aisles and onto the stage, the burst of energy never wanes.

Yes, there is plenty of nostalgia to go around and enough corn to blanket Iowa. A Back to the Future vibe permeates throughout with an appearance of a Delorean on the stage, the prediction that coffee could never ever cost $3, and a cellular phone that must be attached to a battery the size of a car’s are just a sample of what you can expect. And when the scene shifts to Las Vegas, you get to enjoy impersonators of Billy Idol, Mr. T, Imelda Marcos, Cyndi Lauper, Ronald Reagan and Tina Turner.

Costume Designer Deanna Cruz-Conner’s colorful period attire is on point and adds another dimension to the spectacle. Then there are those mullets! Wig designer Tommy Malik deserves co-star status for the spectacular job in adorning cast members with those Richard Marx do’s. (Tommy, I need to speak with you.)

The story centers on Robbie Hart (played exceptionally by Xander Conte), a rock star wannabe and now a famous wedding singer who was jilted at the altar by Linda (Megan Mostow Kaiser), a trashy woman who could not at the last moment bring herself to marry a wedding singer.

Crushed by this disappointment and despite the encouragement he receives from his bandmates Sammy (Henry Cyr) and George (Seth Fallon) as well as a waitress at one of the halls he performed Julia (Maddie Bohrer), Robbie flies off the handle at the next wedding gig and angers the guests with his self-pity and ruminations about love. He gets dumped again, but this time literally in a dumpster.

With more encouragement from Julia and his bandmates as well as his nutty Grandma Rosie (Debbie Mobley) he tries to bounce back but will only perform at Bar Mitzvahs now rather than exposing his fragile emotions at weddings. Along the way, he develops a connection with Julia and becomes attracted to her.

"...a cohesive, intricately staged, high-tempo tapestry of laughter and nostalgia.

The problem is she is dating and is ultimately engaged to Glen Gulia (Chris Riehl), a wealthy, pompous Wall Streeter. It doesn’t look like a comfortable match from the outset but regardless, Julia wants to be married and have the perfect wedding song performed at her nuptials. She does imagine being Julia Gulia, an odd name that is not lost on her.

Following a practice kiss with Robbie at the urging of Julia’s cousin and friend Holly (Bailey Wolf), sparks begin to fly. Realizing that Julia is going to marry Glen because of security and money, he tries to change his lot by getting a job at Glen’s Wall Street firm where the almighty dollar is worshipped at any cost.

An ill-timed visit by Linda at Robbie’s basement apartment in the house owned by Rosie, some communication missteps and further misunderstandings seem to set back Robbie’s quest for true love. The feelings between Julia and Robbie remain, however.

How Robbie and Julia navigate this dilemma forms the remainder of the plot and we’ll leave it there.

Though this is a community theatrical production, the direction, performances and staging are professional caliber.  In a demanding role and in a tour de force, Xander Conte brings an abundance of personality and talent in portraying the lead character Robbie. Likeable for sure, you can't help but root for Robbie. 

Mr. Conte sings, he dances, he impeccably delivers comedic lines, he acts, he performs physical comedy, he strums the guitar, and he possesses an inventory of facial expressions that is limitless.

Mr. Conte’s emotional rendition of “Somebody Kill Me” and duets with Ms. Bohrer in “Awesome,” “Come Out of the Dumpster” (not many songs with that title), “If I Told You” and “Grow Old With You” are particularly well done.

A group number in which Mr. Conte participates, “Casualty of Love” is among several songs with excellent choreography by the energetic cast and Ensemble. This number and the Act One finale “Saturday Night in the City” stand out. But others are quite good as well.

Maddie Bohrer does a fine job of conveying the likable and conflicted Julie. Possessing a sweet singing voice, she performs well in her solo “Someday” and the aforementioned duets with Mr. Conte.

Debbie Mobley as Robbie’s feisty grandmother Rosie should be apprehended for scene-stealing. She boasts that she had been with 8 or 9 men prior to marrying her (unseen) husband of nearly 50 years, and if adjusted to inflation that amounts to about 200 men in 1985.

Robbie lives in her basement and as a present for his wedding that was ultimately doomed, she bought him a new bed. However, with this bed, you put a quarter in the slot, and it vibrates as in the case of those beds of yesteryear with magic fingers. Judging how Robbie reacted when he tried it out, only the middle one worked.

Xander Conte as Robbie Hart, Maddie Bohrer as Julia

Towards the end of the show, the hilariously zany number “Move That Thang” in which Ms. Mobley performs with Seth Fallon as George and the Company is a bona fide showstopper.

Chris Riehl ably plays the role of Glen, the one who was to marry Julia. He trades in junk bonds at work and other illegal activities where making money at any cost is the goal. To that end, Mr. Riehl joins Mr. Conte and the Company in the high-tempo dance number “All About the Green.”

Glen has a wandering eye and lies and shows a violent streak to go with his full-of-himself demeanor. He is a polar opposite of Julia.

Robbie’s bandmate and good friend Sammy, played very well by Henry Cyr, is also a comical figure. His relationships with women aren’t the nicest but he counsels Robbie to help him recover from his depression following Robbie’s break-up with Linda.

He joins George (Seth Fallon) and Robbie in the enjoyable dance number, “Today You’re a Man” at the Bar Mitzvah where they performed and later in a duet with Bailey Wolf as Holly in “Right In Front Of Your Eyes.”

The other member of the band, George, played deliciously by Seth Fallon is a campy, flamboyant character. Sammy is oblivious to George’s sexual orientation, and that lack of awareness provides some good laughs. Mr. Fallon, as stated before, is part of the showstopper “Move That Thang.”

Ms. Wolf is excellent as the flirty, promiscuous Holly. She helps Julia realize that she has fallen for Robbie after trying to latch onto Robbie herself.  

Linda, who broke up with Robbie on the day were to marry and then returned later on to selfishly try to get back in Robbie’s life, is played well by Megan Mostow Kaiser. During that attempt, Ms. Kaiser demonstrates her powerful vocals in “Let Me Come Home.”

The remainder of the talented cast does justice to the production and includes Beth Cohen, Dean Davis, Nick Thompson, Johnny Dunkerly, Rowena Winkler, Patricia Anderson, Julia L. Williams and Erin Branigan. The Ensemble consists of Brandon Goldman, Patrick Gray, Devin Holsey and Geraden Ward.

Aside from the wonderful performances, the atmospherics are excellent. Set Designer Ryan Geiger and Scene Designer Jessie Krupkin plus the set construction and painting crew have done a masterful job in providing the colorful and functional sets. Large set pieces are used throughout that include the Delorean car, a bar, a dumpster, even bathroom stalls. Despite such bulky items, the scenes change with precision and efficiency that maintains the rapid tempo of the show.

Light Designer Thomas P. Gardner and Lighting Board Operator Erin Ardanuy bathe the stage in brilliant hues and change the intensity according to the scene.  

All the elements of Silhouette Stages’ The Wedding Singer blend beautifully under the direction of Jeremy Goldman, his team and the amazing performers. You’re taken back to the 1980’s with all its quirks and you will laugh throughout.  As they would say back then, it’s a bitchin’ show and one that should not be missed.

Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

The Wedding Singer plays on weekends through April 2 at the Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Ln, Columbia, MD 21044. For tickets, call 410-730-3987 visit online. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.

Photos: Stasia Steuart Photography